March 6, 2014

Desk phone

Picture this: I am working from home, attending a conference call, while on mute the whole time. But just around the time I un-mute to say something, the cuckoo clock in the living room, which isn’t far from my study, goes off — forcing me to scramble for the software mute button. It’s surprising the number of times this happens to me. I could get rid of the clock, but given the adoration it receives from my wife, that would be an unwise thing to do.

In another scene, I am in an open office environment, and I am taking a call (because we use internet telephony of course; who isn’t these days), and my gentle co-workers happen to be taking theirs too. I could use a meeting room, but it’s a hassle: pre-book a room, undock notebook, hand-carry with headphones and power cable along, temporarily lose network connectivity and power, etc., reconnect, fumble with wires, et al. Other times with multiple audio I/Os, the hardware gets confused. Sometimes the notebook’s speaker suddenly comes to life, other times, it’s the USB headset. Being blessed with a headphone + mic jack also on my office notebook, I could get rid of the USB headset, but there’s a catch of course: If I leave it connected, I won’t get audio alerts from the notebook’s speaker; every sound then goes to the headset instead.

The thing I liked best about IP phones was that they were designed to answer calls. With those now removed from desks, due to no-fixed-desk open-floor corporate policy — designed to improve occupancy to desks ratio, answering calls has become a chore. Also, I dislike chat programs. They are a distraction, and their ‘answer now, or you’re impolite’ hustle makes me mad. I am willing to give one channel the immediacy — either a phone or a chat program, likely the former, but not both. In practice however, one needs to keep the chat-on on tools like Office Communicator, else one won’t receive a call; all of this has gotten completely out of hand.

Using clumsy headphones is no way to receive calls. I often end up dropping things to take the call — sometimes because it is important, and in doing so, the usual fumble to plug headphones in a desperate attempt not to lose the call ensues. I realized I needed a decent telephony hardware to do simple things easily (call, hang-up, mute, and toggle volume) on occasions I can avoid the headset. Plus, it needed to be portable that can go in my backpack. From searching for a speakerphone, I found Jabra Speak 510, which appears designed to do what I want from such a device. The catch: it isn’t available where I live, and so I am forced to order it from overseas. I hope to receive one soon.

Update (Mar 20): It’s been a few days since I received the speakerphone, and I’ve had a chance to test it as part of my work routine — I have a soft phone number, and for personal calls — using my iPhone. The speakerphone automatically sets itself to be the default speaker device in Windows 7 for the soft phone (via the Office Communicator, or Lync), which is nice, i.e., users without administrative rights will appreciate this no-settings-needed device. Once mated, it automatically connects to my iPhone via bluetooth. So this really is one speakerphone for two phones.

The other day my daughter called while out for shopping with her mom, and I put her on the speakerphone. My father, who was in the living room, asked if she was back home so soon, as he heard her voice, and I said I was speaking to her on the phone. That I think is a reasonable attestation of how good and clear the speakerphone really is.